Monday, May 5, 2008

The Nightowl Newswrap

Don't expect to ever win the Iowa Caucuses, Senator: Senate Republicans on Monday asked environmental regulators to use their power to halt the country's ethanol output expansion plans amid rising food prices. Twenty-four Republican senators, including presidential candidate Sen. John McCain of Arizona, sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency suggesting it waive, or restructure, rules that require a five-fold increase in ethanol production over the next 15 years. Congress passed a law last year mandating a ramp-up to 15 billion gallons of corn ethanol by 2015 and 36 billion by 2022. But McCain and other Republicans said those rules should be waived to put more corn back into the food supply for livestock, and to encourage farmers to plant other crops. "This subsidized (ethanol) program - paid for by taxpayer dollars - has contributed to pain at the cash register, at the dining room table, and a devastating food crisis throughout the world," said McCain, in a statement. Actually, destabilizing the Middle East and banging the drums for war with Iran have also played a part in it, but we'll let you off with a warning this time...

Ya think? China’s capital is tightening security around the highly symbolic Tiananmen Square ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games. New rules issued by the city government ban dangerous articles, including guns, explosives, knives and “other items that affect social order and public safety.” The rules, enacted last month but announced only Monday, also allow random searches of people and vehicles in the area around the vast plaza in the heart of Beijing. They also permit authorities to take unspecified emergency measures to disperse crowds. Tanks, optional.

This kind of thing might be over-medicating children: American children take anti-psychotic medicines at about six times the rate of children in the United Kingdom, according to a comparison based on a new U.K. study. Does it mean U.S. kids are being over-treated? Or that U.K. children are being under-treated? Experts say that's almost beside the point, because use is rising on both sides of the Atlantic. And with scant long-term safety data, it's likely the drugs are being over-prescribed for both U.S. and U.K. children, research suggests. Among the most commonly used drugs were those to treat autism and hyperactivity. In the U.K. study, anti-psychotics were prescribed for 595 children at a rate of less than four per 10,000 children in 1992. By 2005, 2,917 children were prescribed the drugs at a rate of seven per 10,000 -- a near-doubling, said lead author Fariz Rani, a researcher at the University of London's pharmacy school.

Nothing about this is surprising: More than a quarter of Americans suffer daily pain, a condition that costs the U.S. about $60 billion a year in lost productivity. And how often you're in pain depends largely on the size of your paycheck. Americans in households making less than $30,000 a year spend nearly 20% of their lives in moderate to severe pain, compared with less than 8% of people in households earning above $100,000, according to a landmark study on how Americans experience in pain. The findings, published Thursday in the British journal the Lancet, also found that participants who hadn't finished high school reported feeling twice the amount of pain as college graduates. "To a significant extent, pain does separate the classes," says Princeton economist Alan Krueger, who authored the study along with Dr. Arthur Stone, a psychiatry professor at Stony Brook University. Krueger notes that the type of pain people reported typically fell on either side of the rich-poor divide. "Those with higher incomes welcome pain almost by choice, usually through exercise," he says. "At lower incomes, pain comes as the result of work."

Coming soon to a country near you: Thousands of people rioted in the streets of the Somali capital on Monday to protest rising food prices and shops' refusal to accept Somali currency. Witnesses said two protesters were shot dead by Somali soldiers who were guarding buildings that were attacked by demonstrators. Abdi Ud, a journalist with Somalia's Shabelle Media Network, said the protesters were angry because Mogadishu shopkeepers refused to accept Somali shillings and instead demanded payment in U.S. dollars. Shops throughout the city closed down in fear of the demonstrations, he said. The United Nations recently warned of "a deteriorating humanitarian situation" in Somalia as a result of soaring food prices and a worsening drought. "About 2.6 million Somalis now need assistance -- more than a third of the country's population, representing a rise of 40 percent since January," according to a May 2 U.N. news release.

Desperate measures in desperate times: Doctors know some patients needing lifesaving care won't get it in a flu pandemic or other disaster. The gut-wrenching dilemma will be deciding who to let die. Now, an influential group of physicians has drafted a grimly specific list of recommendations for which patients wouldn't be treated. They include the very elderly, seriously hurt trauma victims, severely burned patients and those with severe dementia. The suggested list was compiled by a task force whose members come from prestigious universities, medical groups, the military and government agencies. They include the Department of Homeland Security, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Health and Human Services. The proposed guidelines are designed to be a blueprint for hospitals "so that everybody will be thinking in the same way" when pandemic flu or another widespread health care disaster hits, said Dr. Asha Devereaux. She is a critical care specialist in San Diego and lead writer of the task force report. Hey--did Katrina ring a bell, anyone?

Say it ain't so, John! No mas!It's Cinco de Mayo, and John McCain's campaign has chosen the Mexican holiday to launch a Spanish-language version of its Web site. The site features a Spanish-language ad for McCain and trumpets the phrase "Estamos Unidos Con McCain" – which translates to "We Are United With McCain." As USA Today notes, McCain was asked today if Republicans will be damaged in November by the hard line many in the party took on immigration. McCain himself took a more moderate position in line with President Bush. "The tenor of the debate has harmed our image among Hispanics," McCain acknowledged. The McCain campaign also released a statement today commemorating Cinco de Mayo and stating that "we join together to remember the sacrifice that these Mexican patriots [at the the Battle of Puebla] endured." In related news, McCain announced today that he will address La Raza, a liberal-leaning Latino group, in July. Meanwhile, Tom Tancredo's head has exploded and Sean Hannity is looking for another man he can love once again. Lou Dobbs was passed out and unavailable for comment.

That's okay--our ruling junta let New Orleans drown, too: Myanmar's ruling junta, which has spurned the international community for decades, urgently appealed Monday for foreign aid as a cabinet minister warned that more than 10,000 or more people may have died from a cyclone that swept through the country. Revised to 15,000 [updated - it's worse than that.] The cyclone came just a week before a crucial referendum on a military-backed constitution that the ruling junta hoped would go smoothly in its favor, despite opposition from the country's feisty pro-democracy movement. The disaster could stir the already tense political situation ahead of a referendum on a draft charter, several analysts said. A state radio station said 3,939 perished as Saturday's Cyclone Nargis battered coastal areas and in a matter of hours transformed Yangon, the country's largest city, into a pre-modern state of existence.

Say goodbye to a pioneer: Mildred Loving, a black woman whose challenge to Virginia's ban on interracial marriage led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling striking down such laws nationwide, has died, her daughter said Monday. Peggy Fortune said Loving, 68, died Friday at her home in rural Milford. She did not disclose the cause of death. Loving and her white husband, Richard, changed history in 1967 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their right to marry. The ruling struck down laws banning racially mixed marriages in at least 17 states. They had married in Washington in 1958, when she was 18. Returning to their Virginia hometown, they were arrested within weeks and convicted on charges of "cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth," according to their indictments. Oh, to have a Supreme Court half as dedicated to the rule of law once again...

Yahoo! shareholders about to rebel? Chief Executive Jerry Yang is convinced that the company he started in a Silicon Valley trailer 14 years ago is worth more than the $47.5 billion that Microsoft Corp. had offered for the Internet pioneer. Now he may only have a few months to convince Wall Street that his rebuff of Microsoft's takeover bid was a smart move - and if he can't, analysts won't be surprised if Yang is either replaced as CEO or forced to consider accepting a lower offer if Microsoft comes knocking at his door again...the backlash is expected to begin Monday when Kessler and other analysts believe Yahoo's stock price will surrender most, if not all, of its 50 percent gain since Microsoft made its initial offer Jan. 31. The anticipated sell-off would leave Yahoo's market value hovering around $30 billion.

At least Blackwater is still hiring, right? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are making such heavy use of the nation's Green Berets and other elite warriors that they cannot fulfill their roles in other parts of the world, the military's top commando told The Associated Press on Monday. "We're going to fewer countries, staying for shorter periods of time, with smaller numbers of people than historically we have done," Adm. Eric T. Olson said in his first interview since becoming commander of U.S. Special Operations Command last July. Olson, himself a combat veteran, saw little chance that the demand for his special operations forces in Iraq will decline anytime soon. Even as the overall American force there shrinks - from about 158,000 now to about 140,000 by the end of July - the number of special operations forces in the war zone is likely to increase, he said.

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